DuBose Heyward Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Edwin DuBose Heyward was born in Charleston, South Carolina, into an old Charleston family. When he was two years old, his father was killed in an accident, and his mother began a struggle to support DuBose and his younger sister. Both of these events were to shape his work.

Heyward’s writing, both his fiction and his plays, often portrays life in Charleston, most notably life in the black quarter. His contact with the African American community probably came principally from his employment as a checker on a steamship company wharf, where he developed an understanding and appreciation of the lives of the African American stevedores with whom he worked. Afterward, he became successful in the real estate and insurance businesses. He was to pursue this career until his decision to commit himself to full-time writing.

Three people, in particular, influenced Heyward’s decision to commit himself to writing as a career. He developed friendships with John Bennett, a critic and author of children’s books, and Hervey Allen, who was later to write Anthony Adverse (1933). From these friendships grew the founding of the Poetry Society of South Carolina and Heyward’s serious involvement with writing. Heyward’s marriage to Dorothy Hartzell Kuhns also influenced his commitment to a writing career. He met her at the McDowell Colony, a retreat founded by the composer Edward McDowell for the purpose of encouraging artistic achievement. A...

(The entire section is 402 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207657-Heyward.jpg DuBose Heyward in 1931. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Edwin DuBose Heyward was born into a long-established white Charleston family. After his father, Edward Watkins Heyward, was killed in 1887 in a mill accident, his mother, Jane Screven Heyward, worked as a seamstress to support Heyward and his younger sister Jeannie. Heyward began delivering the Charleston Evening Post in 1894. He entered high school in 1898 but soon dropped out to work in a hardware store.

Polio struck Heyward in 1903, leaving him an invalid for three years. In 1905, he worked as a cotton checker on a Charleston wharf with black stevedores. That same year, he suffered a typhoid attack, and in the following year he contracted pleurisy. After recuperating in Arizona for eighteen months, he returned to Charleston in 1908 and entered into an insurance and real-estate partnership with his boyhood friend Harry O’Neill.

Meanwhile, Heyward had begun writing poetry, fiction, and drama. His first one-act play, An Artistic Triumph, was produced in Charleston in 1913. While recuperating from a second attack of pleurisy in 1917, he took up painting. During World War I, he worked among Charleston’s African American population for the war effort. In 1918, he met the fiction writer and poet John Bennett, who gave him artistic advice. Hervey Allen, a published poet and war veteran whom Heyward met in 1919, convinced him to write poetry. Encouraged by Bennett and Allen, Heyward founded the Poetry Society of South Carolina; he edited the group’s yearbook...

(The entire section is 616 words.)